Turn On the Cameras, Here Come da Judge

Local politicians get telivisionitis

Public men grow addicted to the cool eye of the television camera. Once stricken, they reach out desperately for any opportunity to get their faces on the nightly news.

You expect this from a Terry Goddard, who grew so eager for television exposure at one time that he spent every free evening chasing fire engines. J. Fife Symington III has been known to huff and puff a quarter mile to get his chance for a television sound byte. Did you ever see a state legislator run away from a camera?

These things are obvious. They are facts of life. We accept them as such. They have become the way of the world.

But you're always surprised when televisionitis takes over men engaged in more cloistered pursuits that require a certain dignity. Nevertheless, this is clearly what has overtaken Frank X. Gordon Jr., chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Last week, Gordon summoned the media to the rarefied air of his Supreme Court. Gordon's purpose was to hold a press conference during which he would bask before the cameras to reveal something everyone in Arizona already knew.

Justice Frank Gordon had decided not to run for governor of Arizona.
I'm fascinated by Gordon. Ever since the judge's emergence into the realm of celebrity during the Evan Mecham conspiracy trial, he has behaved like a man gifted with the power of walking on water.

So last week when reporters and television camera operators arrived at the reception desk of Gordon's Supreme Court, they were ordered to sign their names on a yellow legal pad. Only then would one of Gordon's subalterns push a button to release the lock on the door of the conference room where Gordon met with the press.

The room was packed by the time I arrived. I counted six television cameras. Is there so little legitimate news occurring in the state that a non-announcement can bring out a full-court press of newspapers, radio and television?

If President George Bush were in town, he couldn't have drawn a bigger crowd. I wondered why anyone really cared. Then it struck me. Gordon is merely the other side of the coin to the Mecham impeachment hearings. He will forever hold a certain cachet only because of his role in deposing a sitting governor.

Gordon moved into the room, smiling graciously. Gordon walks with a studied, even baronial, air. Each sentence he utters is spoken leisurely and methodically. It is as though Gordon were delivering a pronouncement to the populace from his throne.

"I feel very responsible to the various functions I have as chief justice," Gordon said, gazing into the lenses of the cameras.

"I have been trying to unify the court system . . . to make it more modern, more efficient and responsive to the needs of the people." Then Gordon said he'd made his decision not to run after consulting with various other state Supreme Court justices during a convention in Puerto Rico.

This was startling. One wonders what any Supreme Court justice from another state could possibly know about running for governor in Arizona.

The word on the street was that Gordon has been on the telephone for a month trying to drum up support for a candidacy that never existed, except in his own mind.

"Nobody ever convinced me I was unelectable," Gordon said.

Some think Gordon is waiting for the Senate race, when he might run against Keating Five stalwart John McCain.

Someone asked Gordon about the future.

"The one thing I've learned in this campaign," Gordon said, "is that politicians never say `never.'"

Having admitted his political status, Gordon then had the chutzpah to announce that he was making this statement merely to clear the air before his State of the Judiciary speech to the state's lawmakers.

Among lawyers, judges who become impressed by their own importance aren't called merely pompous, self-inflated or grandiose. Lawyers use a phrase that they speak out of the sides of their mouths. "This guy's got a severe case of `robe-itis,'" they say.

Everyone knows what they mean.

 
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